Cell Phones Suck! Why I Have a Landline Rotary Phone

When was the last time you had a perfectly clear conversation without interruption of either garbled speech or a dropped signal?
Publish date:
February 6, 2012
land line, nostalgia reality check, Luddism, rotary phone, they callin' me

I was sitting at my desk the other day when the clanging phone ringer scared me so badly I nearly fell over. My cat even woke up and yelled at the noisy receiver. I ran over and excitedly picked it up.

My first phone call! Who has my number? Did I remember how to act?


"Hello, may I please speak to Grant Clark?"

"I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number."

"Oh, OK. Thank you."

Not only was the volume and tone more crystal clear than any other phone call in recent memory. It was as if being on landlines -- which the caller clearly was -- forced us into old-fashioned, super polite phone manners.

I’m not trying to be the ultimate hipster with my olive green rotary phone. Nostalgia is a weird thing for Millennials though, and I’d be lying if I said my phone wasn’t a nod to the exact model my father had in his home office when I was a child.

Because I’m about function at least as much as aesthetic, I set up my rotary phone after I signed my lease in San Francisco. My sweetie’s employer pays the wifi and phone bill because he’s a developer who occasionally works from home. So if a landline is free, let’s try a little experiment, eh?

We brought the heavy green monster back from Copenhagen with us because I thought it would be even more amusing if it had Danish characters like Æ on it. I don’t know why the letters J, L, and W are missing. Z is probably missing because Danes never use it and can’t pronounce it. When they say “zoo,” it sounds like “Sioux.” (Never ask a Dane if they want to go see the zoo. Complicated!)

Also missing? The ability to call out. I had to buy a special adapter to be able to make most calls in an age when some telephone networks no longer recognize rotary dialing and a touch-tone phone is often required to navigate most computerized helplines. Huh.

It's definitely tricky to relearn how to balance a heavy receiver on my shoulder again, and obviously, I have to patiently wait for dial to spin back around.

It's also a satisfying routine, soothing my wistful tendencies and making it fun to talk on the phone when the novelty has pretty much worn off. I put the hefty case on my lap and have to try and remember someone's number. Admittedly, I sometimes look it up in my cell, which is pretty weird.

And as I mentioned, it's unusually exciting to not know who is on the other end of the call. So far, that only happens with wrong numbers -- not enough people have the landline number yet -- but that alone is way more interesting without any other information besides some stranger's voice.

In part, I have a landline for the first time as an adult because I sort of think cell phones suck. Don't get me wrong; I love the ease and portability. I've had a cell phone most of my life. I have no idea where or what I'd be without it. I doubt most of us do.

It's just that I also find them equally frustrating as our collective go-to mode of communication. Can anyone consistently get good service anywhere in the continental United States? When was the last time you had a perfectly clear conversation without interruption of either garbled speech or a dropped signal?

Right now, I don’t even have a proper long-term cell contract. I have one of those $2/day plans and a little drug dealer flip phone because I just cannot stomach paying upward of $60/month to be tied to something so terrible. Might as well pay up front and be able to walk away at any time, even if it makes me look like I should be getting texts that just say, “Ounce.”


I know I am not alone in this simple desire!

Hell, I think there may even be some truth to the reports that all these electromagnetic waves might be a big scary experiment. I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m just acknowledging how little we know.

When did talking on the phone become so complicated?

Also, most people don't even do it anymore. How often do you text someone to ask if they have time to talk? I know few people who just pick up and call. It's kind of a bummer.

So far, the rotary gets the most action from its owners. Only my partner and I call each other when we’re out and need to reach the other at home. We don’t normally bother saying a proper “Hello!” because we just know it must be the only other person with the number on hand.

Then again, maybe that lady looking for Grant Clark will call me back.

This probably means I’m one step away from installing push-button light switches in place of the hideous dimmers that came with my apartment. Would anyone know how to use them? Whatever. Maybe style trumps function after all.